On-Demand Medical Services: Healthcare in the Palm of Your HandDecember 04, 2017
There could be major changes ahead for innovations like appointment apps, primary care video visits and other on-demand medical services.
In a world where everyone seems to have a smartphone within arm’s reach at all times, consumers increasingly expect on-demand services of all kinds. Technological advances already have led to disruptions in the transportation, retail and grocery sectors — and now they’re poised to do the same in healthcare.
Healthcare companies that use phone and video conferencing technologies are seeing significant growth. That’s not surprising when you consider that the number of so-called “virtual consultations” worldwide is projected to jump from roughly 40 million visits in 2016 to 90 million visits by 2020, according to market research firm IHS Markit. But the number of virtual consultations will remain only a small percentage of the total U.S. healthcare sector, which is estimated to comprise over one billion doctor visits annually.
Primary care via video visits with physicians may have attracted the greatest attention from investors so far, but other areas are also benefiting from investor interest. Specialty care, behavioral therapy and consumables (for example, 30-minute intravenous hydration therapy) have received substantial funding for on-demand expansions, too.
While the healthcare industry continues to operate under an umbrella of uncertainty, one thing is certain: Patients want health services that are cheaper, timelier and more convenient. Virtual healthcare has the potential to satisfy all three patient needs.
Patients are tired of the hassle of making an appointment to visit an office, often several days or even weeks later. Healthcare apps allow them to obtain video consultations for acute ailments (for example, infections, sprains and bruises, vomiting, diarrhea and colds) as well as chronic conditions (for example, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression) in a matter of minutes.
When more hands-on treatment is required, patients can use other apps to request house calls. The improved portability of electronic health records and medical equipment makes house calls more practical than ever before.
Both approaches reduce costs, in part by cutting unnecessary emergency room or other hospital visits. Perhaps that’s why some insurance companies are covering virtual visits, and more than half of the states have passed “telehealth parity laws” that require reimbursement by health plans for telehealth services at a rate equivalent to that paid for in-person services. Telehealth is the use of digital information and communication technologies (i.e. computers and mobile devices) to access health care services remotely and manage your health care.
The Future is Now
Traditional, in-person healthcare and brick-and-mortar healthcare facilities aren’t going to disappear. But virtual, on-demand services are likely to continue to spread. Done right, they can improve the delivery of services for patients, while cutting costs and empowering providers to expand their market shares.